Birds of Seabrook Island



  Herring Gull



Species Acct.
NW Warblers


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  Order Charadriiformes - Plovers, Sandpipers, Gulls, Terns, Auks
   Family Laridae - Gulls, Terns, and Skimmers
      Subfamily Larinae - Gulls

  Charadriiforms are a diverse group of shore and aquatic or wading or terrestrial birds. They include the sandgrouse, shore birds, gulls and terns, and alcids. The majority breed in the Northern Hemisphere.
   The Tree of Life includes shorebirds with the Ciconiiformes.
Gulls and Terns are found along seacoasts and most inland bodies of water around the world.
Gulls have three webbed toes and their toes are not hooked. The tail is rarely forked. The upper margin of the bill is curved and the maxilla overhangs the mandible at the tip. There is no cere. They are gregarious and generally have less spectacular migrations than shorebirds
White-headed Gulls have white heads in the breeding plumage.
Visiting Sea Bird Colonies
  Herring Gull, Larus argentatus
   Cornell     USGS     Wiki     ToL     Eo
  The Tree of Life separates the American and European Herring Gulls:
   European Herring (Winter) Gull, L. argentatus      (ToL)
   American Herring Gull, L. smithsonianus      (ToL)
        YEAR ROUND (non-breeder) - Fairly common (winter) / Fairly common (winter)
   Herring Gulls are white-headed gulls that are larger than Ring-billed Gulls but smaller than Great Black- backed Gulls. Like Ring-billed Gulls they have a light gray mantle but they have pink legs (if you can see them). Their bill is stouter than the ring-billed's and is yellow with a red spot near the tip on the lower mandible (this actually constitutes a target for young birds to peck to stimulate adults to feed them). The iris is also pale and there is an orange orbital ring. The tail is white.
   First year birds are a fairly uniform dark brown with a dark bill. In the second winter the base of the bill is pink (the tip is still dark) and they may have some gray on the mantle and a whiter head. The tail feathers are dark in first year birds and may have a darker bank on their tips in the second year but the rump remains brownish.
   Size is often the best field mark - coupled with the fact that Herring Gulls are far less common here than Ring-billed Gulls. On Seabrook they are usually seen resting around the inlet, often with Ring-billed Gulls and Great Black-backed Gulls, giving a size metric.

Herring Gull

Herring Gull.
North Beach

  RANGE: Herring Gulls breed along our northern East coast and broadly across the sub-Arctic through most of Canada and Alaska. They winter along coasts and inland along waterways to the Great Lakes and Plains and extensively along the Pacific coast from the Aleutians south. Winter birds may be found through the West Indies and Central America. Herring Gulls have a world-wide distribution. Click for a discussion of their circumpolar populations and terminal overlap with two species - the Herring Gull and the Lesser Black-backed Gull.
   Along the Atlantic Coast the seasonal movements of Herring Gulls are more dispersive than migratory. In my youth I banded several thousand Herring Gulls on islands along the coast of New England. First year birds roamed along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts to Central (and even South) America. By the second year, birds were confined to the Atlantic Coast. And by the fourth year they all were north of Cape Cod. I had one banded gull live for 25 years...
  BREEDING: Monogamous (usually). One brood. Herring Gulls nest colonially, usually near water, and often with other species. They first breed at 4-5 years of age.  They nest in a wide variety of habitats near water, using rocky or sandy coasts, on tundra, on islands in larger lakes and rivers, and on cliffs. They build a nest on the ground, usually next to a rock, log, or tussok of grass. It is a shallow scrape, usually lined with grass, moss, debris, and feathers - it is lined with grass and feathers. Both sexes participate in the construction. Females lay 3 (1-4 eggs) which both sexes incubate for 24-28 (27-30) days. Young are semiprecocial. They may leave the nest after a day or two but remain nearby. They are fed by both parents by regurgitation. They form crèches and may be fed up to 40 days by both parents. They are usually are able to fly after 35 (45-50) days.
   Polygyny and some female-female pairs have been found in the Great Lakes area.
   In the colonies I visited on the Atlantic coast, they compete with Great Black-backed Gulls for the best nesting habitat (interior, grassy habitat). The larger black-backs obviously prevail. On Milk Island there were probably 1000 Herring Gull nest most seasons and probably no more than 50 Great Black-backed Gull nests.
  DIET: Ring-billed Gulls feed on anything they can find - from garbage to berries. They prey on adult birds, the eggs and young of their own species and other gulls, herons, or cormorants in the colony  They may pirate food from other birds or species as well. They (and other gulls) follow shrimpers to feed on the net rejects. At sea, they may feed on schools of fish driven to the surface by foraging whales. They are truly opportunistic...
  VOICE: Their voice is a clear, flat bugling. The long call is a high, clear, two-syllable display note.
   Checklists -
      Seabrook. Kiawah - common fall through spring, uncommon summer. Edisto - resident.
      Coastal - fairly common summer visitor, common winter visitor. Hilton Head - common permanent resident.
         Cape Romain
- common/common/common/accidental.
         Huntington Beach - uncommon April; rare May - August; uncommon September; common October - March.
      Caw Caw - occasional/absent/occasional/occasional. ACE - accidental.
   CBC: ACE 43, 15, 151, 10, 25, 54, 15, 12; Charleston 219, 122, 324, 117, 66, 68, 54, 177;
            St, Helena/Fripp x, x, x, x, x, x, 262, 81; Hilton Head 42, 219, 94, 31, 69, 65, 151, 59; Sun City/Okatie 286, 29, 544, 252, 75, 34, 29, 170;
            McClellanville 80, 272, 93, 143, nc, 114, 92, 59; Winyah Bay x, x, 190, 187 , 210, 0, 111, 179;
               Litchfield/Pawley's 61,107, 222, 53, 1262, 92, 71, 72.
   P&G: Abundant winter visitor, uncommon summer vagrant. Maximum: 4,500 Charleston Harbor, 26 January 1988.
   M&P; Herring Gulls have nested as far south as Cape Fear River, NC.
   Avendex: 2 records. Maximum (above)
   Potter: Permanent resident - abundant except during summer. It now breeds in association with Laughing Gulls at several sites in North Carolina from Oregon Inlet to Cape Lookout.
  ●  On Seabrook, Herring (and Great Black-backed Gulls) are more usually found around the inlet, often numbering 1-6 or so with younger birds being more common than adults. Herring Gulls may also be found on the open beach.

    Most gulls utter a "long call" as part of their courtship. Watch for gulls throwing their neck upwards so the head is vertical and then calling as the head moves to a "bowed" position. In the fall, many juveniles follow adults around, making obnoxious "whining" notes that are actually the juvenile begging call - it sometimes works and adults may feed totally independent young that are not even theirs...
   Many gulls try pirate food from others. Harassed birds will pick up the food and fly off to try to find privacy. They, in turn, may be harassed.
   On many concrete docks, piers, and bridges along the coast you may note shards of clam shells (plus white bird urine on the surface). Gulls have learned to carry clams that are too large for them to open over hard surfaces and drop them. If it doesn't work the first time, they'll try again. When the clam breaks, they descend and eat the contents.
   Many of you probably have fed the gulls (primarily Ring-billed and Laughing Gulls) that congregate on North Beach at the end of the boardwalk. Note that their is a network of alert birds - if you feed one, the numbers grow until you are surrounded by more than you wanted. Feeding birds on the beach is not really a good idea - you may attract more attention than you want and you will not offer a healthy diet to your feathered friends. Birds often defecate as they feed adding an unpleasant reward to a well-intentioned observer who gets in the way.
    Banner - Herring Gull. Milk Island, Cape Ann, MA.

KEY:    ■ Seabrook list     □ Kiawah list